Larry Caldwell has been involved in the NRCS Watershed Program for the over 50 years. He is an engineer who has been involved in all phases of the watershed program including planning, design, and construction since starting with the Soil Conservation Service in 1968 and retiring from the Natural Resources Conservation Service after 41 years of federal service. His work on aging dams for so many years has earned Larry the nickname of “The Old Dam Man”.
Upon retirement, Larry worked part-time for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, assisted with the implementation of DamWatch and worked on other watershed issues for another ten years. Then, he tried to retire a second time. After volunteering for a couple years with the NRCS Earth Team Program, he became an ACES enrollee to assist with enhancements to the NRCS DamWatch system and other dam safety issues.
DamWatch is web-based system that collects real-time weather and water-related data and sends alert notifications if thresholds are exceeded for a specific dam. Alert notifications are distributed electronically immediately to people responsible for the dams through email and cell phone. DamWatch provides project sponsors, NRCS staffs, emergency managers, and state dam safety officials with critical information so that they can react immediately when an emergency occurs. DamWatch also provides for storage and retrieval of critical information such as construction drawings, inspection reports, emergency action plans, photos, etc. for future reference.
DamWatch also allows NRCS, our partners, and sponsors to become leaders in monitoring aging dams to address current and future challenges involving climate change. DamWatch helps to keep watershed dams safe during the predicted more frequent and intense storms, as well as providing critical water supplies to municipalities and irrigation during more intense and longer duration droughts.
Why did Larry come back to work as an ACES after working more than 50 years? That is a good question. Knowing that almost half of the NRCS agency is in the process of retiring, Larry understood the vital role of preserving institutional knowledge and came out of retirement again. His desire to mentor and train new NRCS employees and sponsors on watershed rehabilitation and provide assistance to the DamWatch program was pivotal to his return.
“After spending over 50 years working with the NRCS Watershed Program, it is difficult to let go from everything you worked so hard to develop and implement. Besides, the younger generation needs help with keeping aging dams safe,” said Larry Caldwell. “The ACES Program provides the opportunity to help mentor new employees while enjoying a very flexible work schedule and the extra money to put towards retirement. Someday I really will retire, but as long as I am still having fun, I will keep working on what I truly enjoy.”